Returning to Art: The Practice of Process and Development of Style

Art as Craft

Many people draw, paint, sculpt or otherwise engage in creative activities. We like to call ourselves artists, even if we rarely – or ever- really make art. That was me. To be an Artist is a profession, a calling. And like any calling, it requires a enormous amount of discipline. The difference between people who just like to draw and professional Artists is a commitment to the craft of making art. That’s right. Art is a craft. A craft is something which requires an abundance of knowledge, process, skill and time. Given enough time, discipline and commitment, most people are capable of becoming Artists. No, really! Take a look at the work of a couple of my favorites artists over the course of their careers:

Vincent Van Gogh

The early work of Vincent Van Gogh is virtually unrecognizable compared with his later, enormously beloved work.

Early Work:

Woman Doing Needlework
Woman Sewing 1881-82
Rooftops, View from the Atelier The Hague (1882)

Late Work:

Vincent van Gogh Painting, Oil on Canvas Saint-Rémy: September, 1889 Private collection
Self Portrait. September, 1889
Vincent van Gogh Painting, Oil on Canvas Auvers-sur-Oise: July, 1890 Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe
Wheat with Crows. July, 1890

In less than 10 years, Van Gogh went from being reasonably competent but ingloriously ho hum to utterly unforgettable!

Gustav Klimt

Starting the same year as Van Gogh (1880), Klimt had a far longer career (he died in early 1918), and changed even more drastically,

Early Work:

Bildnis Clara Klimt 1883
Bildnis Clara Klimt 1883
Das Theater Shakespeares - Deckengemälde im Burgtheater 1886
Das Theater Shakespeares – Deckengemälde im Burgtheater 1886

Late Work:

Tod und Leben 1915
Tod und Leben 1915
Die Tänzerin (vorher Ria Munk II) 1916
Die Tänzerin (vorher Ria Munk II) 1916

Yeah, seriously. SAME GUY.

A casual observer may point out that technically speaking, both Kilmt and Van Gogh’s early work was more realistic. Perhaps we might even say better. But what makes a Van Gogh a Van Gogh or a Klimt a Klimt? It’s not photorealism. Klimt, in particular, had enormous technical talent, yet he CHOSE to make a completely different kind of work. Why? Because art is about more than drawing and being an Artist is more than having a skill. It’s about style.

There is a reason we say that such and such artist developed a style. Style is a process combining knowledge, skill and time. So, style is crafted. Klimt’s “Klimtiness” was a process- a honed craft.

Style as Process

Late last summer, I decided to put some serious effort into becoming an Artist. Prior to September 2014, I had never spent more than 8 hours working on a piece. Much of my work remained in an unfinished state, little of it evolving beyond the initial concept sketch.  Everything I’d ever read about the Masters told me that they were dedicated to art every day for at least years, if not decades of their lives. I was struck by the unified and identifiable style of each famous artist’s work I encountered. Most people with a passing interest in art can identify Van Gogh, Monet, Michaelangelo, Kahlo, O’Keefe and so on.  So how to develop a style of my own?

True, many people have a style without thinking about it. For a multitude of reasons, I gave up art when I went to college. I continued to draw from time to time, but I did not study art in school. After 12 years working in offices, I still dreamed of a more creative life. But my development was stunted- I still valued realism in my work above all else. This whole notion of style was the realm of “real” artists. Eureka! There is something to value in art – even in MY art- beyond technical perfection!

Now the real work can begin.

I took a Fundamentals of 2D Design class this past semester. We covered value, line, shape, and color and experimented with a range of techniques- just as I imagine most similar classes do. Our first couple of pieces were monochromatic value collages. Then we were asked to do a piece in ink which was entirely line work. No shading. Each piece built on the fundamentals of the last, engaging more and more complex layers of technique and thought. We began to be asked to make multiple sketches of ideas for a single assignment, then pick one which was strongest. Later, we were given chromatic limitations as well, and finally, we were asked to create a piece made with optical blending techniques. By the end of the semester, I’d learned a new craft: a basic process. Even when doing vastly different techniques, I had gotten used to going through a series of steps which were different from anyone else- unique to me.  When looking at the bulk of my work from  that class, it’s clear that I DO have a style, and so do many other people in the class. Eureka again! It’s HOW we do the work, how we approach it. The little rituals we do in preparing to work. The things we think about, the things we prefer.

Fantastic! But…

…I don’t actually love all my artwork.

Well, clearly, neither did Klimt. He changed. He kept changing. So did Van Gogh. there’s always something new to explore, something different to focus on. Keep what works and change things up to create something new.


I can change my art and make it whatever I want it to be. And you can do the same with your art. Because it’s a craft! Learning new things and new ways of thinking and seeing.  That’s the secret. Just keep going, keep learning. Keep doing.

Happy Crafting!

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